The embodiment of water insecurity: Injuries and chronic stress in lowland Bolivia

Asher Y. Rosinger, Hilary J. Bethancourt, Sera L. Young, Alan F. Schultz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Water is critical to health and wellbeing. Studies have theorized that problems with water can become embodied, yet few studies have quantified this. Therefore, we first sought to understand the lowland Bolivian water environment of Tsimane’ forager-horticulturalists. We assessed the water environment holistically, using objective measures of water quality and water services (Joint Monitoring Programme's drinking water services ladder) and subjective measures, including perceived water safety and water insecurity experiences [Household Water Insecurity Experiences Scale (HWISE)]. We tested how water service levels, perceived water safety, and water fetching frequency were associated with HWISE scores using Tobit regression models among 270 households. We then tested if and how water becomes embodied via self-reported water-related injury and a chronic stress biomarker, hair cortisol concentration (HCC). Results demonstrated that, compared with households using surface water, households with basic water services had HWISE scores 1.59-pts lower (SE = 0.29; P < 0.001). Ingestion of water perceived to be “bad” and more daily water-fetching trips were associated with higher HWISE scores. Twenty percent of households reported prior water-related injuries, with women most commonly injured. In logistic regressions, each point higher HWISE score was associated with 28% (95%CI:1.16–1.41; P < 0.001) higher odds of injury. Basic water services compared to surface water was associated with 48% lower odds (OR = 0.52; 95%CI:0.33–0.82; P = 0.005) of injury. Finally, using linear regressions among 332 adults, HWISE scores were not associated with HCC. Past water-related injury was associated with higher HCC (Beta = 0.31; SE = 0.09; P = 0.029) among women, but not men. Relying on unimproved water services compared to surface was associated with 46.2% higher HCC for women (Beta=0.38; SE=0.14; P=0.048) and 55.3% higher HCC for men (Beta=0.44; SE=0.15; P=0.044), respectively. Overall, our findings demonstrate that water insecurity can become embodied through water-related injuries and elevated HCC. Improving water service levels through an equity lens may help ameliorate water insecurity and its accompanying negative health effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114490
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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